planet gong archives

Mother Gong

Fairy Tales

  1. Wassilissa
  2. The Three Tongues
  3. The Pied Piper
Gilli Smyth, Harry Williamson

There was once a house 
near a big dark forest 
where a little girl 
called Wassilissa lived 
with her cruel step-mother 
and stepsisters. 

They made her do all the work 
while they painted their faces 
and admired themselves. 

Their father was away 
and her only friend was the doll 
her real mother had given her 
with her blessing before she died. 

One day, the fire went out. 
Her stepmother was very angry. 
'Now look what you've done! 
You'll have to go into the wood 
and fetch fire from the Baba Yaga', 
and she pushed her out of the door 
and slammed it.

Wassilissa walked for hours 
through the black wood, and 
just as Venus touched the horizon, 
she came to a path. 

The birds began to sing, 
and through the trees 
a man dressed in white 
rode past her on a 
beautiful white stallion, 
and the day came. 

Then the path became a wide track, 
she heard the sound of hooves again, 
and through a cloud of dust appeared 
a chariot drawn by winged horses. 
As it flew past she saw in it 
a man dressed in gold, 
who looked straight ahead 
and would not see her. 

The sun rose.

She journeyed on 
all that day until twilight, when 
she could make out in the distance 
a twinkling of lights, 
which became a cottage surrounded 
by a fence of little lights. 

As she got closer she saw that 
each fence post was a bone 
topped by a grinning skulll, 
whose eyes glowed like dark coals. 

There was a rush of wind, and a 
great black warrior on a black horse 
carrying a silver scythe 
rushed by with hardly a sound,
galloping straight into the cottage, 
and disappeared.

Wassilissa crept closer to the house. 
She could see now the gate latch 
made of a human arm, 
and the lock, that was 
a grinning mouth, full of teeth. 
She was just about to run away 
when she heard another sound, and 
round the corner slithered a mortar, 
steered by a woman with six arms. 

She was brushing away her tracks 
at the same time 
with a broom made of cats. 

'Aah, so you've come at last. 
Well, you shall have your fire, 
but you must work for it. 
Come in and serve me.' 

And Wassilissa followed her in. 
'Bring me everything in the oven.' 

And she ate it all, 
leaving only some dry bread 
and water for Wassilissa.

'Tomorrow you must clean the house, 
sort the good corn from the bad 
in these four bushels, and cook me dinner 
by the time I come back, 
or I'll eat you'. 

Then she went upstairs. 
Wassilissa couldn't sleep for fear, 
until the Doll whispered in her ear, 

'The morning is cleverer than the evening, 
go to sleep'.

When she woke up the Doll had just finished 
sorting the last of the grain. 

So Wassilissa hurriedly cooked dinner 
and had just finished 
when the Baba Yaga returned. 

She was so angry when she found 
the house spotless, 
the corn sorted, 
and the dinner on the table, 
but she said nothing, 
just clapped her hands 
and the three pairs of 
bodyless hands appeared, 
took the good seed 
and started grinding it into flour. 

Wassilissa couldn't look away.

'What are you staring at? 
Why don't you say something?' 

'Who were those riders 
I passed in the forest?' 

'The white's the day, 
the gold's the sun, and 
the black's the night, of course'. 

'Where do you go when you leave the house?' 

'Be careful what you ask 
about other people's business;
too much knowledge will make you old'. 

Wassilissa wanted to ask about the hands, 
but dared not, and so the Baba Yaga said, 

'Very well, it's my turn, how did you manage 
to finish all the work in time?' 

'O, it was with my mother's blessing'. 

'I don't want blessings in my house. 
Tomorrow you will have to do all you did today again, 
and sort out these three sacks of poppyseed',

Next day as the doll was finishing the work, 
Wassilissa was seized by a terrible curiosity to explore. 
So she went upstairs, 
and opening a huge iron door, 
found herself in the middle of 
a beautiful room full of strange things. 

In front of her was a mirror, and 
as she approached it she saw the 
reflections of a faraway town. 

In the foreground stood an old man, 
talking to an old woman dressed in rags. 

As Wassilissa leant forward 
to try to hear the conversation, 
the man looked straight at her. 
His face was so sad she took a moment 
to realise it was her father, 
and she had to turn away.

Then she noticed an enormous copper-bound book on a table. 
She tried to open it, but it was locked. 
Then she noticed a little golden key lying beside it.
It was very heavy, but with a great effort she managed it, 
and had to clasp her ears. The book shut. 

She backed away, only to bump into a pedestal 
on which was fixed a beautiful crystal. 
Smoke swirled there and as she gazed 
into the multicoloured depths she began 
to see wonderful landscapes from a great height. 

Looking down, she saw a forest, 
and in the forest was a little cottage, 
and going in through the door was the Baba Yaga, 
and she was going up the stairs 
and opening the large iron door.

'So this is your mother's blessing', 
and Wassilissa was seized by the hair 
and dragged into the mortar. 

'Now you will see what you should not want to know'.

And they slithered off through the forest. 
Soon they came to a large building 
which had strange smokes coming from it. 
Near a gaping mouth stood several large creatures. 
Some had animal heads on their bodies, 
others had too many legs and arms. 
They were grabbing bundles of people 
and throwing them into the mouth, 
which chewed them into small pieces. 

Suddenly Wassilissa felt a pair of claws take her feet, 
while something else coiled about her neck. 

She looked up to see a wolf and an eagle grinning down at her. 
She screamed and struggled for all she was worth, 
but the jaws came closer until they were all around her, 
and she felt no more.

The next thing she knew she was flying 
high over a beautiful country. 
She saw the sun, racing across the sky 
trailing sparks everywhere, 
so that a day passed in a second. 
Trees, plants and buildings grew 
before her eyes and collapsed again. 

Wassilissa just wanted to hover there, 
as winter followed summer followed winter, 
and watch the world grow older and older.

A moment later she was in the forest again, 
standing by a pond. 

She could hear the dreadful sound 
of the machinery in the distance, 
and was about to hide 
when she noticed her hands. 
They were full of deep wrinkles. 
She felt her face and the skin 
was ridged and rough to her touch. 
She looked in the still waters and saw 
the reflections of a bent old woman. 
Then the Baba Yaga appeared 
holding a skull on a pole 
with two glittering eyes...

'Now take your fire and go'.

When she came to her stepmothers's house, 
Wassilissa was surprised at the kind welcome she received, 
because they did not see many strangers. 

She gave them the fire, and they set it in the hearth. 

It was after supper, when they were all 
sitting round the blazing fire, that 
Wassilissa realised they had not recognised her, 
for they were discussing her long absence. 

'Maybe she met the Baba Yaga after all, and was turned into a stone.' 

'Well, good riddance to her, is what I say'. 

'But who will do the housework now she is gone?' 

'Maybe my husband will return soon', 
said the stepmother, and they all laughed. 

They were all staring into the fire meanwhile, and 
every lie they told caused a flame to leap out at them. 

Soon their heads were surrounded 
by a cloud of little dancing flames, 
so they looked like demons. 

Then came a knock on the door. 
They opened it to see their father standing there, 
tired and dusty from his long journey. 

He seemed not to see the flames, 
but straightaway fell to asking about Wassilissa.

'For night after night 
I have been having 
the most terrible dreams. 
I became so fearful for 
my sweet daughter's life 
I have had to return, 
but I see she is not here'.

'We sent her to fetch fire 
from a friend in the wood, 
but she has not returned yet.' 

Then Wassilissa said, 
'As I journeyed through the wood 
I passed a pretty girl on the track 
to the Baba Yaga's house. Maybe 
I may guide you there to rescue her.

'Let us start at dawn', said her father. 

And so they did.

By mid morning they had come to 
the little cottage in the wood, but 
there was no-one there so they went on 
and came at last to the mill. 

There they saw the Baba Yaga 
directing her slaves.

'So you have come back, have you, and 
brought him with you? Seize them 
and throw them into the mill'.

They were quickly surrounded 
by the horrible slimy forms 
and many hands gripped their arms 
and legs and dragged them down 
to the giant grinning mouth. 
But it was slowing down, 
and gradually it stopped, 
and then started again, in reverse. 

Struggle as they might, 
they soon felt that indescribable pain, 
and both lost consciousness.

This time it seemed to Wassilissa 
that a stream was flowing 
up her back and into her head. 
It became stronger and stronger, 
becoming a river which swept 
all her experiences away 
into the ocean of oceans. 
Her hands and face felt young again, 
and beside her stood her father, 
wiser than ever before. 

The Baba Yaga appeared 
in the form of a goddess, 
beautiful and terrible. 
Her skin was smooth and black, and 
seemed to glow from within with a fire. 
In one of her hands she held a mirror, 
and in it they could see an 
image of their faraway home. 
There was no sign of the 
stepsisters and stepmother, 
but the skull was still burning, 
and where the women usually sat, 
there were some small piles of ashes. 

As she looked at them, the Baba Yaga said,

'Those who hate will be consumed by fire; 
to those who love, life is given again and again.'

Gilli Smyth, Harry Williamson

In a far off land 
there once lived an old shoemaker 
who had only one son, 
and he was stupid 
and would not learn anything. 

So his father said, 'Listen, my son, 
I can't get anything into your thick head, 
you'll have to leave here. 
I'm sending you to a famous teacher, 
he should do better than I can.'

The son studied with this master for a year. 
When he returned, 
his father asked him what he had learned. 

'I have learned what the animals say, 
father', said the boy. 

'To think I've been saving my money 
for years so you can speak to animals. 
You will have to study with another master'.

So he was sent out for another year 
of study with amnother master. 
When he returned, his father asked him, 
'What have you learned?' 

The son replied, 'What the birds sing'. 
His father was furious that his son 
had again wasted his time and money, 
so he threatened, 
'I'll send you to a third master, 
but if again you learn nothing 
I shall no longer be your father'. 

When the year was over, 
the son returned to his father's house.

'What have you learned?'

'I have learned what the frogs croak'.

'Those masters are charlatans', said the father.

'No, they can only teach what one 
needs to learn, father', said the son.

'Well, if you need to learn 
about dogs and frogs and birds, 
you had better to and live with them, 
and the father threw the son out in a rage, 
ordering his servant to kill him secretly, 
but the servant had pity on him 
and left him in the forest.

After some time, the son came to a land 
where huge packs of ferocious dogs 
roamed the countryside, 
frightening the people. 

Indeed, men were being killed and eaten 
every day by one or other of the packs. 
The situation was so bad the people 
talked about nothing else all day.

'I wonder if I can help', thought the shoemaker's son. 

So he hid himself in a small thicket and waited. 
That night a pack of dogs stopped to rest just nearby, 
and he overheard them saying:

'Soon we shall have our revenge 
for the tortures we have suffered 
at the hands of our cruel human masters.'

'We attack the town at dawn', 
said a great fierce Alsatian.

The son stepped out and immediately the dogs fell on him, 
but 'Stop', he said in dog language, 'I am your friend'. 

When they heard the language they 
lay down in astonishment and fear. 

'No-one wins a war', and 
'Maybe I can help you', said the son, 
and he became their translator, 
and made an agreement between the dogs 
and the people, that they should live in peace, 
and dogs should never be beaten.

He lived happily with them for a while, 
and then he heard that there was to be 
a great contest of magic in Rome. 
He felt drawn to the contest 
but was so happy with the dogs 
that he could not decide what to do. 
He was walking by a pond thinking deeply, 
when a voice interrupted him.

'You should go to Rome without delay. 
A great future awaits you there. 
Have no fear, and remember, you have friends.'

He looked around for the speaker, and 
saw it was a frog, who straight away 
jumped into the water and swam away.

The shoemaker's son set off 
for Rome without delay. 

When he arrived on the outskirts of the city, 
he went to an inn, where everybody was talking 
about the contest, and learned that for some 
reason the contest was especially difficult. 

Many good magicians had failed even the first tasks, 
and had died or been wounded. 

The young man felt a little fearful at these tales, 
but remembered the frog's prophecy, and had faith.

The next day he presented himself to the 
scribe who recorded entrants to the contest. 
The old man laughed, and told him to go home 
and enjoy his simple life, for he wouldn't 
live even an hour if he entered the contest, 
but he insisted, for he felt an inner voice 
telling him not to turn back. 

So he was accepted, and found 
himself waiting by a large door. 
The door was locked, but there happened 
to be a spider crawling up the wall. 
He spoke to it, and it unlocked the door for him. 
So he stepped through it.

All around were magicians sitting. 
Suddenly they saw him, and there was silence. 
Then a great roar as a huge golden lion charged for him. 

The young man did not move, 
but merely looked it in the eye, 
and spoke in lion language:
'I am your friend. 
Too skinny to eat anyway. 
Roll over and I'll scratch your ears'.

To everybody's astonishmebnt, 
the lion did just that, and 
the young man left the arena.

The elder magi were impressed 
by the young man's prowess and 
worried lest he prove too powerful 
and overthrow them, so they 
devised a special test for him.

'Next you have to swim across the 
River Tiber with a stone tied to your back'. 

The test came. 

He dived into the water, 
straight onto the back of a turtle, 
which carried him to the surface, 
and across the river. 

Everybody around cheered and waved him on, 
for they felt he must be a mighty magician indeed
to float with so heavy a stone on his back.

The elders were so angry when they heard of his success. 
'There must be something he can't do'.

'He surely cannot fly, can he? For he 
has not passed through the school of air, 
to my certain knowledge'.

So they had him bound in a cloth, and 
brought to a high tower overlooking the city. 
He was permitted a song before he fell, 
and he sang to the doves nesting all around.

'My friends the birds give me wings 
and strength of heart that I may fly 
awhile before I die'.

Then he was pushed off the parapet. 
The ground rushed up to meet him, 
the crowd gasped and hid their eyes, 
when suddenly thousands of white doves 
swooped down around him, grasping pieces 
of his clothing, and bearing him up. 

They fluttered to the ground, 
and set him on his feet. 
At this extraordinary sight, 
the elders rejoiced, for they felt 
he was truly a great magician.

There was a banquet that evening, 
and when he was asked to speak, 
the shoemaker's son said:

'I am but a poor uneducated young man, 
and feel so humble amongst such a 
wise and powerful gathering. 
Yet I have passed your tests, 
and you have told me 
I may now learn anything I desire. 
I have thought long, 
for my heart speaks slowly to me, 
and what I wish for most is a flute 
to play music to the animals and people 
that will show to them everything of this world 
and the next as they need to see it'.

Said the Chief Mage: 

'You shall have a magic flute wrought for 
you by the swarfs of the silver mountain, 
and with it you may charm anything 
that lives to do your will. 
But you must swear never to use it for harm'.

'So do I swear', said the young man, 
and soon he became the Piper, 
and went his way playing his flute 
in his coat of red and yellow.

Robert Browing/traditional
Gilli Smyth/Harry Williamson

Once there was a little town 
called Hamelin, surrounded by 
green woods and fields, 
full of fruit and corn. 

The people there 
were happy and quiet, 
and as good or as bad 
as any people anywhere.

One day everything changed. 
People began to notice 
there were rats everywhere, 
nobody knew how or why.


They fought the dogs, 
and killed the cats,
And bit the babies 
in the cradles,
Ate the cheeses 
out of the vats,
and licked the soup 
from the cooks own ladles,
Split open the kegs 
of salted sprats,
Made nests inside 
men's Sunday hats,
And even spoiled 
the women's chats,
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different 
sharps and flats.

The town summoned 
the greatest ratcatchers 
from all the towns around 
but although they caught 
hundreds of rats 
there were always more, 
squeaking and scuffling. 

It was as if they were bewitched.

At last the people in a body
To the town hall came flocking.
'Tis clear', cried they, 
'our Mayor's a noddy,
And as for our Corporation, shocking
To think we buy gowns lined with ermine
For dolts that can't or won't determine
What's best to rid us of our vermin.
The Mayor and Councillors felt insane,
'It's easy to bid me rack my brain,
I'm sure my poor head aches again,
I've scratched it so, and all in vain.
O for a trap, a trap, a trap.'

Just as he said this, what should hap
At the council door but a gentle tap?
'Bless us, cried the Mayor,'What's that?
Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?
Anything like the sound of a rat,
Makes my heart go pit a pat!
'Come in', the Mayor cried, looking bigger,
And in did come the strangest figure!
His queer long coat from heel to head
Was half of yellow and half of red,
And he himself was tall and thin,
With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin,
And light loose hair, yet swarthy skin,
No tuft on cheek nor beard on chin,
But lips where smiles went out and in,
He advanced to the council table:
And 'Please your honours' said he, 'I'm able,
By means of a secret charm, to draw
All creatures living beneath the sun,
That creep, or swim, or fly, or run,
After me so as you never saw!
And I chiefly use my charm
On creatures that do people harm,
The mole, and toad, and newt, and viper,
And people call me the Pied Piper,
and here they notices round his neck,
A scarf of red and yellow stripe,
To match with his coat of the selfsame check;
And at the scarf's end hung a pite,
And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying,
As if impatient to be playing.

'If I can rid your town of rats,
Will you give me a thousand guilders?'
'One, - fifty thousand!' was the exclamation
Of the astonished Mayor and Corporation.

Into the street the Piper stepped,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept
In his quiet pipe the while:
Then, like a musical adept,
To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled,
And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled,
Like a candle-flame where salt is sprinkled,
And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,
You heard as if an army muttered,
And the muttering grew to a grumbling,
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling,
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling,
Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins
Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives -
Followed the Piper for their lives.

From street to street he piped advancing,
And step by step they followed dancing.
Until they came to the River Weser,
Wherein all plunged and perished.

You should have heard the Hamelin people,
Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple:
'Go,' cried the Mayor, 'and get long poles!
Poke out the nests and block up the holes!
Consult with carpenters and builders,
And leave in our town not even a trace
Of the rats!' When suddenly up the face
Of the Piper perked in the market-place,
With a 'First, if you please, my thousand guilders'!

A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue
So did the Corporation too,
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gypsy coat of red and yellow!
'Beside', said the Mayor, with a knowing wink,
Our business was done at the river's brink,
We saw with our eyes the vermin sink,
And what's dead can't come to live, I think.

O friend, we're not the folks to shrink
From the duty of giving you something for drink.
And a matter of money to put in your poke:
But as for the guilders, what we spoke
Of them, as you very well know, was in joke.

Beside, our losses have made us thrifty,
A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!'

The Piper's face fell and he cried,
'No trifling! I can wait! Beside
Folk who put me in a passion,
May find me pipe to another fashion'.

'Insulted by a lazy ribald
With idle pipe and vesture piebald?
You threaten us, fellow?
Do your worst,
Blow your pipe there till you burst'.

The piper drew himself up to his full height and gave the
Mayor a long cold look from his strange green eyes.
Once more he stepped into the street,
And to his lips again
Laid his long piipe of smooth stright cane,
And here he blew three notes,
There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoess clattering,
Little hands clapping, and little tongues chattering,
And like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering,
Out came the children running.

All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls
Tipping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music, with shouting and laughter.

The Mayor was dumb, and the Council stood
As if they were changed into blocks of wood
Unable to move a step, or cry
To the children merrily skipping by-
And could only follow with the eye
That joyous crowd at the Piper's back.

But how the Mayor on the rack,
And the wretched Council's bosoms beat,
As the Piper turned from the High Street,
To where the Weser rolled its waters
Right in the way of their sons and daughters!

However, he turned from south to West,
And to Koppleberg Hill his steps addressed,
And after him the children pressed.
Great was the joy in every breast.

'He never can cross that mighty top!
He's forced to let the piping drop,
And we shall see our children stop!'

When, lo, as they reached the mountain-side,
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed.
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain side shut fast.


Did I say all? No! One was lame,
And could not dance the whole of the way.
And in after years, if you would blame
His sadness, he was used to say,
'It's dull in our town since my playmates left!
I can't forget that I'm bereft
Of all the pleasant sights they see,
Which the Piper also promised me.

For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
Joining the town and just at hand,
Where waters gushed and fruit trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new;
The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here,
And the dogs outran our fallow deer,
And honey bees had lost their stings,
And horses were born with eagle's wings.